What is sexually transmitted infections (stis)?

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Overview

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections spread by sexual contact. This includes genital skin-to-skin contact and vaginal, oral, and anal sex. If you're pregnant, you can also spread them to your baby before or during the birth.

STIs are common. But they don't always cause symptoms. And if they are not treated, they can lead to health problems. Testing and treatment are important to help protect the health of you and your partner or partners.

STIs caused by bacteria can go away with treatment. STIs caused by viruses can be treated to relieve symptoms, but treatment won't make them go away.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections spread by sexual contact. If you're pregnant, you can also spread them to your baby before or during delivery. STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some examples of STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

You can be exposed to an STI anytime you have sex or close contact with the genitals, mouth, or rectum of another person. But exposure is more likely if you have more than one sex partner or you don't use condoms. Using condoms can reduce the risk of STIs. STIs can be prevented by not having sexual contact. (This is called abstinence.)

What are the symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Symptoms of an STI can include abnormal discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus, pain while urinating or during sex, and sores or rashes around the genitals or anus. But STIs don't always cause symptoms. And STI symptoms may go away or change quickly. This doesn't mean that the STI has gone away.

How are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) treated?

Treatment is available for all STIs. The kind of treatment depends on the STI. Some STIs can go away with treatment. Other STIs can be treated to relieve symptoms. But treatment won't make them go away.

  • Some of the most common STIs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—are caused by bacteria. These STIs are treated with antibiotics. They can go away with treatment.
  • STIs caused by viruses, such as genital herpes and genital warts, can be treated to relieve symptoms. But treatment won't make them go away.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, is a sexually transmitted virus that is treated with many medicines but does not go away.

If you think that you have been exposed to an STI, go see your doctor right away. This will help prevent serious health problems for yourself. And it can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

How can you prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Here are some ways to help prevent STIs.

  • Limit your sex partners. Sex with one partner who has sex only with you can reduce your risk of getting an STI.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you had sex without a condom, ask your doctor if taking a preventive medicine is recommended. It may help prevent certain STIs if it's taken within 24 to 72 hours after unprotected sex.
  • Don't share sex toys. But if you do share them, use a condom and clean the sex toys between each use.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.

How are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed?

To diagnose an STI, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your sexual history. You may also have a physical exam. Several types of tests can be used. Your doctor may test samples of urine, tissue, blood, or other fluid.

How can you care for yourself after exposure to a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

  • Take medicines exactly as prescribed.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Don't stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Tell your sex partner or partners that they will need treatment. For certain STIs, your doctor may be able to prescribe treatment for any partners also.
  • Don't have sexual contact while you have symptoms of an STI or are being treated for an STI.
  • Don't douche. Douching changes the normal balance of bacteria in your vagina. It may increase the risk of spreading the infection to your uterus or other reproductive organs.

What increases your risk of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Some things can increase your risk for an STI. For example, you're at higher risk if you:

  • Have unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex (not using condoms or not using them correctly).
  • Are a man who has sex with other men. (If you or any sex partner doesn't identify with the sex assigned at birth, talk to your doctor about the risk.)
  • Have a new sex partner or more than one sex partner.
  • Have a partner with high-risk behaviors. High-risk behaviors can include having more than one sex partner, having other partners with an STI, and having unprotected sex.
  • Are younger than age 25.
  • Have a current STI or a history of STIs.
  • Have sex while using alcohol or drugs.
  • Trade sex for drugs or money.

What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread through sexual contact. People who are pregnant can also spread STIs to their baby. Certain STIs are reportable. This means that positive test results are shared with health departments. Doing so helps with the treatment and control of STIs that spread easily and put others at risk. Some STIs, like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, chancroid, and HIV/AIDS, are reportable in every state.

Exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs): When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden, severe pain in your belly or pelvis.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new belly or pelvic pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have new or increased burning or pain with urination, or you cannot urinate.
  • You have pain, swelling, or tenderness in the scrotum.
  • You are pregnant and have any symptoms of an STI.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have unusual vaginal bleeding.
  • You have a discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus.
  • You have any new symptoms, such as sores, bumps, rashes, blisters, or warts in the genital or anal area.
  • You have itching, tingling, pain, or burning in the genital or anal area.
  • You think you may have been exposed to an STI.
  • You have a sore throat or sores in your mouth or on your tongue.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.